Polygamy and the Kingston Clan

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Polygamy is the practice of having more than one wife or husband at once ("Definition of Terms"). It represents a relationship among people that exists whether or not the relationship is condoned by the state. Polygamy is considered illegal in the United States and carries criminal penalties (Davis). The Kingston Clan is a Mormon fundamentalist faction of the Latter Day Saints called The Latter Day Church of Christ, started initially by Charles Elden Kingston in 1935, and later renamed by John Ortell Kingston in 1977 (Kenworthy). Also known as The Order, the Kingston compound is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. John Ortell took over the reins of the clan when his brother, Elden Kingston, died in 1948. John Ortell was committed to ensuring the financial success of the order, so he proactively engaged in developing businesses that would advance the wealth of the clan. Today, the clan owns hundreds of businesses across the Salt Lake City Valley, including Washakie Renewable Energy, a biodiesel company; (Carlisle and Maffly) A-FAB Engineering; AAA Security; AAA Alarm Company; AM Security Alarm Company ("The Kingston Clan's Businesses"); garbage collection companies; management consulting companies; and an internal bank (Carlisle and Maffly). It is estimated that the combined holdings of the Kingston organization is upwards of $170 million (Adams).  

The Order’s offices were recently raided by several federal agencies, including the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Carlisle and Maffly). The subject of their search was sealed, but a former employee indicated that “. . . the Kingston family was running a well-oiled tax scam on the federal government” (Jones). The former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, referred to The Order as an "organized-crime family" (Carlisle and Maffly). In 2015, Washakie was fined $3 million by the EPA in order to squash accusations that it had received more federal subsidies than it was due ("Police Raid Offices”). The company had generated over 7.2 million bogus biomass-based, renewable fuel credits, valued at approximately $2 million, at its Plymouth, Utah facility ("Washakie Renewable Energy”). But, in fact, Washakie never produced any biodiesel that could be utilized to create biomass-based diesel RINs. In addition, the company committed various recordkeeping and documentation violations. Added to the purported tax credit issue and the tri-federal agency raid, a former member of the Kingston Clan said that they take regular advantage of federal programs, including food stamps and Medicaid (Neugebauer and Rascon). Despite the millions of dollars The Order has accumulated, it is reported that some wives and children live in squalor within some of the compounds (Dobner). In an effort to find food to eat, some wives have gone gardening, which is a euphemism for searching through garbage cans, or what is also referred to as dumpster diving (“John Ortell Kingston”). In 1983, Utah filed a law suit against John Ortell for welfare fraud. Several of his wives and children received financial subsidies despite his vast wealth. Investigations disclosed that at a minimum, four of John Ortell’s wives and twenty nine of his children had received thousands upon thousands of dollars in aid for a period extending over ten years (Rivera). Rather than fight the allegations, John Ortell paid $250,000 in an effort to have the state drop the case. The state was at the point in the proceedings where it was going to require John Ortell to take court-ordered blood tests, which certainly would have confirmed his paternity.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Kingston Clan is not the only well known polygamist group ("Fundamentalist Church”). The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) is another polygamist denomination. Rulon Jeffs was the patriarch of this clan. He married at least nineteen women and was the father of as many as sixty children. One of his sons, Warren, succeeded Jeffs after his death in 2002 (Hogan). Not too long after his father’s death, Warren declared hands-off to his fellow male high-level parishioners regarding his father’s former wives. A week afterwards, Jeffs married almost all of his father’s nineteen wives except for two, one of which fled the neighborhood, the other who simply refused. The second wife was thereafter prohibited from ever marrying again. Jeffs was a proponent of the celestial doctrine (“Warren Jeffs: Jesus Christ”). This doctrine held that in order for a male follower to achieve exaltation after death, a member must have a minimum of three wives in order to enter heaven. Jeffs evangelized that the more prolific the man is in marriages, the more certain he would be to make way into heaven. In 2011, Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault of young girls (“Warren Jeffs”). Texas authorities conducted a raid on his ranch in 2008. Consequently, an extraordinary amount of documents were unearthed serving as evidence that Jeffs and others were involved in marriages to underage girls. Jeffs was found guilty of having a celestial marriage with a 12 and 15 year old girl. The 15 year old became pregnant and gave birth to Jeffs’ child. The marriages were in violation of Texas law. It was determined in court that Jeffs had over seventy marriages, one third with underage girls. During the trial, Jeffs’ habit of requiring his wives to document everything he did, through audiotapes and in writing, came back to haunt him. He videographed the sexual assault of a12 year old, which was later played in court, along with a journal which quoted Jeffs as saying, “If the world knew what I was doing, they would hang me from the highest tree" (“Warren Jeffs”). He was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for his crimes. Some say that Jeffs still tries to run his organization from behind bars as the officially titled “President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator” (“Warren Jeffs 2”). The Kingstons are said to be distinguished from other polygamist sects because they practice incest ("The Kingston Group”).  

Paul Elden Kingston

In 1987, John Ortell Kingston died (Rivera). After his death, the clan elected Paul Elden Kingston head of the clan ahead of three of his older brothers. Paul Elden, an accountant and attorney, is projected to have thirty wives and well over eighty children ("Paul Elden Kingston"). Notwithstanding being a member of the state bar, which requires signing an oath not to violate Article III of the Constitution of Utah, which has criminalized polygamy, Paul Elden remains a member in good standing ("Utah State Bar Member Directory"). When questioned about this dichotomy of principles, Billy Ray Walker, a representative of the Office of Professional Conduct for the Utah State Bar, would not comment (Rivera). Others have stated that prosecuting polygamy is no easy task. As well, many polygamist have one legal marriage with their first wife, while participating in undocumented marriages with the remaining wives. 

Paul Elden and others were the focus of a criminal investigation where authorities sought members’ fingerprints, photos, and DNA samples (Adams 2). While search warrants were sealed, it was later determined that the investigation surrounded the subject of incest. According to Utah law, it is a felony to have sex with a relative, including in the case of adoptive, intact stepparent and child, and half blood relationships. Although Paul Kingston did not offer a comment, others in the family expressed the rationale behind kinship marriages, which they described as essential as a result of the size of their community (Adams 2).

We are a small group of people," said family member Rachel Young in a written statement. "We encourage our young people to choose companions within their own faith. This makes some related marriages inevitable. To deny the right to marry within our faith would in effect deny us the right to exist (Adams 2).

The general concern of incestuous relationships is that it serves as the foundation for birth defects, such as children who grow up with kidney disease, microcephaly, and dwarfism. According to the outcome of the state investigation, it was determined that Paul Kingston’s marriages included two with his biological half-sisters. In the Warren Jeffs group, Fumarase Deficiency is said to be plaguing the FLDS community (Hollenhorst). The birth defect is the result of intermarriage between relatives who are close in degree. The irregularity results in epileptic seizures, mental retardation with an IQ of 25, and the inability to engage in self-care. The twenty victims of Fumarase Deficiency in the Jeffs clan all live within a couple of streets near the Utah-Arizona border.

John Daniel Kingston

One of the more notorious cases of polygamy and its potential consequences is the case of John Daniel Kingston and his 16 year old daughter Mary Ann Kingston ("Polygamist Is Convicted of Incest”). John Daniel arranged to have his daughter marry his brother, David Ortell Kingston. David Ortell proposed to the girl and her father officiated the ceremony. Although she says that she tried to avoid him after the wedding, she was forced to have sex with David Ortell four times in 1998. After finding out that she stayed out late one night, John Daniel forced her to a ranch, beat her with a belt until she became unconscious, and then abandoned her there. The teen walked for miles away from the desolate ranch until she was able to find help. She reported the beatings to authorities, who later charged David Ortell with incest and illegal sexual activity, and John Daniel with child abuse. David Ortell Kingston was sentenced to four years, while John Daniel Kingston was sentenced to twenty eight months for the belt whipping.

Plural Marriage: The Concept

In 1890, polygamy was repudiated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and this policy on plural marriage has lasted until today (Ravitz). In the LDS, if a person engages in polygamy, they will be excommunicated. The concept was originally introduced by the LDS founder Joseph Smith, Jr., and was recorded in the Book of Mormon scripture, in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1843. Once disavowed by the LDS, numerous splinter Mormon fundamentalist groups decided to continue to operate under the principle of plural marriage. One such group is the FLDS, led by Warren Jeffs, whose women and girls were pastel colored, simple, pioneer dresses down to their ankles with their hair swept upwards and tied back; and another splinter group is The Latter Day Church of Christ, composed of the Kingston group, whose women are allowed to dress as they may ("Burkas of Pastel Muslin"). The foundational belief is that those who engage in plural marriage will attain the highest exaltation in the celestial kingdom ("Warren Jeffs: Jesus Christ”). This means that through living a life of purity of actions and righteousness, a person can become one with Jesus Christ, and live with God in His celestial kingdom. It is believed that the more marriages a man has, the closer he is to achieving his place in the kingdom. Those who believe in plural marriage feel that it is protected under the First Amendment. A spokeswoman for plural marriages says that the goal is not to have polygamy legalized, but it is to have it decriminalized (Ravitz). Overall, the objective is to have governmental authorities take their hands out of their marriages, which they see as eternal.

The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, is the primary legislation making plural marriages illegal in the United States (Davis). The law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1890 in the case the Late Corp. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States. It was at this point that the LDS disavowed plural marriage, and the church’s assets, which had been seized by the government as a result of the sanction of disincorporation, were released.

Works Cited

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"Burkas of Pastel Muslin." New English Review. 21 April 2008. Web. 22 July 2016. <http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm/blog_id/14360/Burkas-of-Pastel-Muslin>.

Carlisle, Nate and Maffly, Brian. "Federal agents raid Utah offices of polygamous Kingston Group." The Salt Lake Tribune. 10 February 2016. Web. 22 July 2016. <http://www.sltrib.com/home/3523346-155/federal-agents-across-utah-raid-offices>.

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